For this interview, Bernard Russchen, implementation consultant of Mercado at Ball, spoke to Becky Lacy, key-user of Mercado at Ball Horticultural Company. Agri Information Partners has been in business with Ball for years, offering them efficient data processing solutions through our breeding software E-Brida. Last year, Ball decided to extend Agripartner’s services and exploit the possibilities that our product and trial management software Mercado has to offer.
Ball Horticulture Company is a family-owned, globally oriented business that operates in all facets of horticulture in 20 different countries all over the globe. The company – that started out in 1905 as a cut flower distributor– now comprises breeders, research and development teams, suppliers, and distribution companies all over the world, with its headquarters in West Chicago, Illinois.
Becky Lacy has been working as an Associate Product Manager at Selecta One – one of Ball’s partner companies – for 4,5 years and is responsible for the North America region. Within her role, she forms the link between breeding and marketing. Her main tasks are the management of the evaluation trials and content production for the marketing department.
I do a little bit of everything. That makes my daily work activities very diverse.
“My main goal is to obtain as much fact-based information as possible about each variety. That information enables Ball to provide clients and customers with detailed variety information where and when needed and it aids us in selecting the best varieties to bring onto the market. In my role as Associate Product Manager, I have a hand in breeding, research and development as well as marketing. So basically, I do a little bit of everything. That makes my daily work activities very diverse.”
How did you discover Mercado?
“We have been working with Agri Information Partners for years. Our breeders at Ball FloraPlant are using the breeding program E-Brida for all their breeding management, so we are familiar with Agripartner’s software. At the time, we were looking for a specific environment for product management, since the set-up and use of data are slightly different in both departments. Therefore, it was a logical step to get in contact with Agri Information Partners to inquire about the product management tool Mercado, which was developed to bridge this gap between breeding and sales and provide a fully-controlled environment for product managers.”
How did you experience the implementation phase of Mercado?
“Together with Agripartner, we decided to get to know the system in a six-month pilot period. During those months, we had a medium-sized team of eight people working on the project. For each separate module of Mercado, we received an online training session from Agri Information Partners, including homework assignments and answers to all our questions.
Since there are multiple business units involved in the project, the Ball group formed a rather unusual scenario for the use of Mercado. Even though we all work in the same technical environment, we are all managing our own varieties and trials individually. Luckily, during the implementation phase we were assisted through the Agri Information Partners ServiceDesk, which – even though it came a little late for me – helped me to further familiarize myself with Mercado.”
During the implementation we were assisted through the Agri Information Partners ServiceDesk, which helped me to further familiarize myself with Mercado.
Now that Mercado has been fully implemented in your daily processes, how do you feel about it?
“Mercado plays a critical role for us. It allowed us to finally get rid of the different spreadsheets that we previously used to document variety and trial data. Now that we changed to Mercado, my desk has become a clean space, and my backpack has gotten much less overloaded since I only need my phone, tablet, and computer.
What is very convenient about this new software is that all data is stored in a single online space, which I can access from wherever I am. And, without the use of all that paper, it has a lower impact on the environment too.
Previously, I have worked with other companies that brought solutions for the processing of my product management data. With those systems, the user-friendliness often became a problem, and it required me to always have a back-up of pen and paper in the field, which is exactly what I was trying to part with.
Mercado is the first system with which I do not have to worry about my data anymore, and that allows me to work entirely without paper. I feel secure that the data I enter on my phone, once synced, is safely preserved in Mercado.
What I especially appreciate about Mercado, is that it saves me a lot of time every day. Even though in the field, it takes a couple more seconds per plant to document them on your device than it would on paper, it cuts down the work I still have to do at the office tremendously.
In the past, I wrote everything on paper, and then back at the office I needed to type everything into my Excel spreadsheets. Not only is the current less time consuming, but also not as prone to mistakes.”
In a single day, I read about 200 varieties. Imagine that I would have to photograph all of those with a camera. Later, upload them to my computer, and then arrange all those different files and folders in order to match all the pictures to the correct variety.
What processes does Mercado cover for you?
“Mercado is, of course, of great help with trialing and communication about varieties. But the real time-saver is the way Mercado helps us to build and read trials. Especially the photo capture function is an excellent tool that adds to time-efficiency. In a single day, I read about 200 varieties. Imagine that I would have to photograph all of those with a camera. Later, upload them to my computer, and then arrange all those different files and folders to match all the pictures to the correct variety. In Mercado, any photo taken with the app appears in a programmed structure that allows me to find the right image in a matter of minutes, which makes the old folder-system superfluous.
The main advantage of Mercado might be the easily accessible possibility of collecting variety information over time. The process of launching a new variety takes 3-5 years. Over such a long time, it is convenient to be able to access all that data in one central place. Before, we had to combine data from different people using different Excel files that were structured in different ways. And to make matters worse, every time someone changed positions, they had to hand over ‘their’ files to another person, who might again have a different way of working.”
What are the most useful functions of Mercado for you?
“The photo module in Mercado is definitely compelling. It provides us with a clear overview of all our data and photos per variety per trait. If a variety is not of interest anymore, we can archive the information in Mercado. That means I am not bothered by the results and photos anymore, but at the same time, we still keep all the data in case we need it.”
The photo module in Mercado is definitely compelling.
“The second function that I find very useful is the easy sharing of information through the program. Needing to call or email colleagues about a particular variety or trait is not workable on the scale we operate on. Mercado is now our central source of information – especially of variety file information – which is a valuable asset to our business process.”
What do you think Mercado can still improve on?
“The possibility of sharing the data from the trials can still use some improvement. Especially sharing trial data with my colleagues, that might be breeders in Europe, for example. They need to be able to access some trial data, without seeing all the information in Mercado. In our sector, it is common to share information in a professional and clean way on a regular basis. If Mercado could facilitate this process better, it would be very beneficial for its users.
In addition to that, I would like to see even more options to customize the system to my own needs. The structuring of variety information already has quite some customizable settings at the moment, which allow me to define all traits and such myself. I think there are more options that could come in useful; for example, the flexibility for trial reporting could be expanded. I would like to be able to first select some varieties before creating the trial report.”
Even colleagues that have always taken notes on paper are now – for the first time – 100% paperless in the field.
Did your work change a lot since the use of Mercado?
“Oh, yes. My work processes are way more streamlined than before. The programs we used in the past did not have such a strong variety file, so they were not as useful. Mercado allows us to have one central place to create, maintain, and share variety and trial data. Even colleagues that have always taken notes on paper are now – for the first time – 100% paperless in the field. This colleague (right) always used to bring his paper notebook with him when we still worked with the old system, in case an error occurred. He has been with us for ten years now, and thanks to Mercado, he also finally went paperless.
In the field, it might take slightly longer to complete your notes. However, I am a true millennial, which means I hate writing by hand. Digital observations have the advantage that they are more accurate and always legible. In the past, when I looked back at my notes in the office, I sometimes didn’t have a clue what I wrote. Collecting photos also might take a little longer, but the advantages of not having to go through extensive data processing by hand more than merit the extra time it takes in the field. Plus, if a colleague needs a specific picture, it will take me no more than 30 seconds to find the right photo.”
What is your opinion about the support and contact with Agri Information Partners?
“You guys have truly been of great service to us. It is very convenient to be able to communicate with the same team for both E-Brida and Mercado. Agri Information Partners is always quick to respond and is always readily available to help us out.”
That, of course, is very nice to hear from a customer. Thank you so much. Do you have anything else you would like to share with the readers?
“Yes. I would like to share that the use of technology is one of the best ways to get your business processes streamlined. In order to flourish in our expertise, it really is a necessity to have the right technology in place.”
Becky, thank you so much for your time and answers. We will talk to each other soon!
The use of technology is one of the best ways to get your business processes streamlined. In order to flourish in our expertise, it really is a necessity to have the right technology in place.” – Becky Lacy